Oprah Winfrey has amassed an impressive collection of Montecito real estate over the last two decades.
But the media mogul’s latest headline in the luxury community is not about a house, but a wall — one that neighbors fear might reroute flooding onto their properties during the next rainstorm.
After months of heavy rainfall and flooding across the community, a boulder wall was installed along San Ysidro Creek, which runs along Winfrey’s estate, to protect the property from flooding and creek erosion, according to Santa Barbara’s Noozhawk.
It’s a reasonable precaution; Montecito has long been prone to weather disasters, including a 2018 mudslide filmed by Winfrey that killed 23 people, a number of whom were swept into San Ysidro Creek. Earlier this year, the area was evacuated when a storm swept through the community.
But residents fear that the wall could redirect the creek, pushing floodwater onto other properties during intense rainfall.
“You can’t alter creek canals and not expect there to be results,” Sharon Byrne, executive director of the Montecito Assn., said in an interview with Noozhawk. “Don’t change the creeks. They are going to shift and move on their own.”
The wall was reportedly installed by Jimenez Nursery, which obtained a permit to build it on Feb. 1, a few weeks after the area was evacuated. The permit sought to reconstruct the creek bank after the flood and replace boulders that had either eroded or washed away.
This month, a group of officials and inspectors met at the wall to analyze the project after a complaint was filed with the county. John Zorovich, a deputy director for the Santa Barbara County Planning & Development Department, told SF Gate that an investigation was ongoing.
The wall was built on Winfrey’s Santa Rosa Lane property, which she bought at auction for $28.85 million in 2015. At the time of the sale, the 23-acre estate known as Seamair Farm held a ranch-style home built by prolific architect Cliff May as well as equestrian facilities such as a stable, barn, riding rings and a horse trainer’s house.
The property was an expansion of “the Promised Land,” Winfrey’s famous main residence that she picked up for around $50 million in 2001. The 42-acre spread centers on a 23,000-square-foot Georgian-style mega-mansion overlooking the ocean.